A Call To Arms

There is a revolution taking place. You can’t miss it, really. It’s rising up all around us—in the way books are published, in how they find their audience, and how authors interact with their readers.

The thing about revolutions is that they are both exciting and scary. People and systems are vulnerable during revolutions when all that change and upheaval is taking place.

But we on the front lines, or even those of us just hanging out on the sidelines with a vested interest, can be a part of it in our own small way and try to shape this revolution.

The kind of publishing world I hope for is one that will embrace all the different ways books can find their audience; self publishing, traditional publishing, indie publishing, building an online platform, having no platform at all and still making the NYT bestseller list. I want them all. I’m greedy that way because I truly believe that the more avenues to success there are, the better for ALL writers (not to mention readers!)

To me, the most exciting thing about the current revolution is that there are now more than ever before, a huge variety of ways a writer can find success and readers can find books. The really cool part? They don’t all have to be the same. They can be based on our own individual strengths and weaknesses.

Because here’s the thing. There is no one right way to success. There are many, many paths and trails we can take to get there. Anyone who says otherwise is suffering from a wee bout of tunnel vision.

More than ever, today’s writers are pressured to build a platform, collect fans, develop a following, Tweet, blog, (no wait—blogging’s dead!)  and write seven books a year. Most of us are lucky to manage one or two of those things, let alone all.

And to say you have to do that to be successful is simply not true, and it’s a disservice to writers to claim that it is. A quick peek at last month’s NYT bestseller lists show just how many diverse  paths to success* there are:

Kristen Cashore – The only internet presence she has is a blog she updates every week or two, a blog that does not have a comment function, I might add. (She recently started up a twitter feed to broadcast her new blog posts, but she does not interact there at all.) Her third book, BITTERBLUE, just came out after a three year wait between her last book, but she still hit the NYT list.

John Green – One of the social media pioneers with his Nerdfighters and Vlog brothers, but also? A truly amazing author of exceptional skill.

Ransom Riggs – MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN has been on the bestseller list for 34 weeks, and I think its safe to say his book was a sleeper hit from a new and relatively small publisher

Veronica Roth – has two bestseller slots with her debut YA DIVERGENT and her follow up INSURGENT.**

E. L. James whose online based fan fiction propelled her to a whopping three slots on the bestseller list.

Suzanne Collins – the hermit-like author of The Hunger Games who has a very outdated website, no twitter or Facebook page and doesn’t even blog! Or have a FB page or Twitter account.

 

The truth is, big success is rare, no matter HOW you publish or HOW you connect with your audience. The Amanda Hockings of this world are as few and far between as the Stephanie Meyers. But the good news is that some traditionally published mid list authors AND some self published authors are able to make a decent living.

It’s funny, because for the most part advice about writing processes has moved away from the You Must Do This school of advice and acknowledges that there is a huge variety of processes out there, each one of them valid as long as you are producing words. We recognize that there are outliners, and plotters, and pantsers, and fly-into-the-mist-ers, and that they all work.

But when it comes to marketing and promoting, it seems we’ve taken one paradigm—the old school “traditional publisher buys your book, publisher markets your book, you sink or swim on their efforts”—and are now insisting that everyone must follow the new paradigm—where we are all platform building, paradigm shifting, self publishing, networking machines. People are drawing lines in the sand and creating false dichotomies where there don’t really need to be any. These kinds of divides are exhausting and suck a lot of creative energy out of the room. What if we all took those chips off our shoulders? Imagine what a mammoth, inclusive platform we could build with just those alone?

A true revolution, the sort I can get excited about, is the kind where we don’t all shift from one single choice to another, but where we embrace all available options, and people can choose the solutions that best fit their personalities, their career plans, and reading audience.

That’s why even though I am not pursuing self publishing right now, I am wildly excited for all the opportunities that have opened up and I cheer for each self-published author’s success.

The same for less traditional paths to a wide readership. Every time someone hits big sales numbers—however they get there—I am thrilled for them. A rising tide floats all boats and every time lots of readers get excited about any book, writers win.

I applaud the innovations and trail blazing. We need those, in all area of society and culture and the arts.

But here’s the downside to the revolution—the loud voices proclaiming that others too have to do it that way or risk being left behind, being a luddite, or selling out to the man.

Here’s an important tip: You will not get farther along on your path by disparaging the path others have chosen. I promise. That will not provide the mysterious rocket fuel you need to finish first. Or best. Or whatever your goal may be.

So traditionalists, don’t fear change and don’t be threatened by the trail blazers. You never know where your writing path will take you and you may very well need to use the trail that they have blazed at some point in your career.

And trail blazers? Don’t disparage traditionalists because the haven’t jumped on your bandwagon yet. You don’t know what their personal publishing goals, comfort zone, skill set, or audience is. Besides, you never know where your writing path will take you. In such a fluid industry, it behooves no one to be rigid.

Yes social media can rock the book sales, but so can being hermit-like and writing books that readers clamor for. Or simply taking that time and writing more books. Yes, some writers can make better money and reach more readers through self publishing, but not all writers who self publish reach more readers or make more money than traditionally published authors.

Writers need to be well informed, understand the options, and make clear-eyed choices. And we need to be very, very wary of anyone who tells us that we simply MUST do such and such to be successful in today’s publishing climate.

So when you hear of someone reaching success through a method that feels threatening to you or way outside your comfort zone, or even old fashioned or outré, remind yourself that doesn’t have to be your path. Then, and this is the really critical part, take a moment to be genuinely happy for them. They have just grabbed the brass ring and that is a good, good thing. Even if it is not the path we ourselves intend to take to get there.

 

*   (Since I write YA, I tend to have more awareness with that genre than others.)
** (I’m 90% sure she didn’t have a huge twitter or FB following back when she got her publishing deal but my memory is fried right now so feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.)

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About Robin LaFevers

Robin LaFevers is the author of fourteen books for young readers, including the Theodosia and Nathaniel Fludd series. Her most recent book, GRAVE MERCY, is a young adult romance about assassin nuns in medieval France. A lifelong introvert, she currently lives on a blissfully quiet hill in Southern California.

Comments

  1. says

    This same could be said for how we write – the old “if you don’t plot your work may suck” or “if you plot your work may suck” — everyone has their own style, their own voice, their own way of expressing themselves!

    Great post!

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  2. says

    A study of the Luddites is relevant. There may be less violence today but the motive is the same: resist change. Yeah, right. How about holding back the tide?

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  3. says

    Robin,
    I like your perspective. There are many paths to take to achieve success. The writer must decide what works and what they are comfortable doing. Some people love to blog. Others want to focus solely on their fiction writing. The great thing about technology is it affords so many portals of entry and opportunities to build community. Thanks for sharing these thoughts, Robin.

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  4. says

    I loved this article, Robin, thank you.

    Also, I’ve been meaning to welcome you to Writer Unboxed! I was so excited when you were added to the list!!

    Technology really has changed the way publishing works. I own a nook, but still buy print books as well (pretty covers…I needed to buy a beautiful hardcover of GRAVE MERCY, for example!). I think people with ereaders are less likely to care if a book is from a big publisher, an indie, or a self-pub. We can read free samples now, and word of mouth spreads fast in this technologically-savvy world, so a smaller release might very well hit it big!

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  5. says

    A true revolution, the sort I can get excited about, is the kind where we don’t all shift from one single choice to another, but where we embrace all available options, and people can choose the solutions that best fit their personalities, their career plans, and reading audience.

    So, so true! There’s a sort of safety in following the bent-grass path of wagons as they veer out into this brave new world, but you can go in any direction you choose–head for the hills, for the plains, for the sunset. Thanks for reminding everyone that there’s more than one way to look at things.

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  6. Shelley Schanfield says

    I agree, Robin. I’ve had a bit of background anxiety–well, ok, more than a bit–about the whole social media thing. Many authors that I like perhaps have a website and not much more. (The most immediate example is Ann Patchett.)

    In all honesty, I’m not that interested in seeing what my favorite authors are blogging about, or if they’re blogging or tweeting or have a Facebook fan page at all. I like a couple of Donald Maass’s thoughts that I’ve seen or heard one place or another. To paraphrase: Your writing is your platform, and What sells the book is a good story and word of mouth.

    Now I understand that social media can be a powerful form of ‘word of mouth.’ I followed the first piece of advice and made my manuscript the best I could, and have just finished and sent it to beta readers. Now I will spend some time strategizing how I can best utilize these new social media tools.

    This column provides welcome perspective.

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    • says

      Years and years ago, I first heard Donald Maass say that the best thing you could do to market your book was write an amazing book, and I have pretty much CLUNG to that ever since. I think it is especially true for fiction.

      And yeah, whatever we can do to cut down on that constant hum of anxiety is a GOOD thing!

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  7. says

    Hurray for Robin! I get so sick of the sniping between the various factions and camps. I suppose I’m pretty old fashioned by most standards. I have found a social media niche in fb, but I still have no author page, and no plans for one. And everyone tells me I should be on Twitter more. I finally started blogging, but everyone tells me it needs to be more consistent (in topic/theme and in timeliness) if I want to build an audience.

    The reason I still strive for an agent and/or a traditional deal is I want to ensure my work is properly vetted, and I suppose I’m not clever enough (or flush enough) to think of a better way to ensure it. I applaud those who make other avenues work for them, and I certainly haven’t eliminated any options. Why would I? I’m happy to have them.

    Thanks for this, Robin. Great way to start my Friday! You’ve lifted my spirits.

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  8. Todd Hudson says

    Well said! I always embrace positive perspective easier than negative, and this is a great reminder of not only how to objectively view the ‘revolution,’ but how to be courteous and empathetic toward fellow writers along the way. ‘A rising tide lifts all boats’ is an excellent reminder for us all.

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  9. Carmel says

    Hear! Hear! from a fellow introvert who is so excited by all the new options in publishing and loves the idea of everyone doing what is best for them.

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    • says

      Carmel, the advent of the internet really is a HUGE boon for us introverts! We can connect meaningfully, and in a way that suits us best, at a time that coincides with our natural energy rhythms. Big introvert win!

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  10. says

    Robin, I just want to hug this post! As someone who has experienced firsthand both the traditional and the indie routes of publishing, I couldn’t agree more with every point you’ve made. It’s not an either/or, one path in mortal combat against the other scenario. A certain path may be right for a certain author and not for others. Sometimes even two books written by the same author call for different paths to reach readers.

    And BTW, I just finished Grave Mercy, and absolutely loved it! Can’t wait for the next book in the series!

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    • says

      Exactly, Anna! I’ve been on Twitter for a couple of years now, and had about 600 followers–mostly other kid lit authors and a few teacher/parent/librarian people. But with the publication of Grave Mercy, my following has nearly tripled, and I haven’t done a single thing differently! It’s just that book’s audience happens to be more active on Twitter.

      And thank you for the kind words about the book! Yay!

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  11. says

    Love this post. There’s room for all types of publishing, and all types of books. As you say, we have more readers now than ever before. It would be nice if some of the people out there so quick to judge and so quick to say ‘my way is the best way’ would zip it and see we all have the same goal–reaching readers.

    I think there’s a big opportunity to learn from the different types of publishing routes as well. It isn’t an all or nothing because different approaches and experiences can lead to innovation, which we all benefit from. :)

    Have a great weekend, and thank you for always providing such great content here at Writer Unboxed!

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    • says

      I think learning about all the different routes and options is crucial–as is getting familiar with them so we aren’t intimidated by the technology or the platform. THEN we can make smart, informed decisions about what works best for us.

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  12. says

    Yay! I love this post. I chose self publishing and an indie press but I push my path on no one. I encourage anyone who is waffling between what road to take to research and evaluate their goals. Many roads to success and for that I am thankful.

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  13. says

    Thanks for this – it’s difficult to express the nature of anxiety and stress that the current social media impetus puts on writers who may be struggling to simply get a grip on it all, including yours truly.

    I too have noticed that many a successful authors seem to have little interest in promoting themselves with social media. Of course, in that group, a majority have established a readership already.

    The nature of social media and promotion is very ‘popularity’ oriented. In terms of what many writers are doing in order to establish what they see as a ‘fan base’ could quite possibly turn into something as simple as connecting with many other writers who are doing the same thing. Where are the readers in that equation? Yes, many writers read other writers books that they meet through the internet, and they also might make coveted high five reviews on Amazon for one another, but a lot of what we all see as popularity on websites is just that. It’s a high school thing in some ways and popularity doesn’t always translate into success in any given field.

    Another important point here is that popularity is like an addictive drug. Some may be chasing the the tail of that one for a good long time before realizing…

    I am sticking to writing and polishing the best damn story I can, and then presenting it professionally as I can to agents. This is what I’ve learned from my fave online teacher Donald Maass. And as he said in a video interview I watched of him recently, do that, and the rest will take care of itself.

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    • says

      You’re right, Bree, so many of these fan bases are built on other authors or writers all supporting each other. And while it’s GREAT, it doesn’t equate to book sales. I can’t tell you how many hugely internet-popular authors I’ve spoken with who have lousy sales numbers. One simply doesn’t guarantee the other.

      I think the most effective word of mouth is built by OTHERS talking about one’s book.

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  14. says

    I love the publishing opportunities today and the realization that there is no one right way to write or publish. Amazon says it’s up to the writer to figure out how to get on the top lists, which is what sells – that’s our biggest challenge today.

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  15. says

    Brilliant and beautiful post, Robin. Your calm outlook is really helpful and soothing – and generous, too. I love the line: “A rising tide floats all boats and every time lots of readers get excited about any book, writers win.”

    I also finished GRAVE MERCY last night and ADORED it!!! I truly cannot wait for the next book! Congratulations!!!

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  16. says

    Whatever path is chosen, there *is* one required and unifying component of success: write a truly great story–then repeat. The rest is details and choices.

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    • says

      This is even more true today with Amazon’s “Look Inside” function; fancy covers are nice and good back-cover copy helps, but when you can read the first two or three chapters online, you weed out the over-hyped and underdone stuff very quickly.

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  17. says

    Couldn’t agree more; as an indie-author with two books in the Top 10 for their Amazon category, working on a third one, I have enjoyed unlooked-for success with direct epublishing. But I would still love to find a traditional publisher willing to put my novels on bookstore shelves, too.

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    • says

      That is great you’re not only working to move forward, Marion, but leaving all your options on the table. Open minded and fluid seems like the best way to maneuver in this changing climate.

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  18. says

    The self-promotion involved in being an author is very challenging and it’s hard to tell what–if any efforts–do any good. Sometimes less is more, and sometimes you can do very well with no promotion at all, but that too is hard to judge until it happens!

    While I am an indie author myself, the real caveat that I see today with the traditional publishing route rests solely in terms of the contract you as an author have to sign. Any author seeking a traditional contract should get an IP lawyer and make sure that their long-term interests in their books and their career are protected (see The Passive Guy and Kristin Rusch for more info!).

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  19. says

    This is spectacular. I wish more people had such a well-balanced, level-headed approach to things. Spot on. Thanks!

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    • says

      Sorry I sound like a spaz. :P

      Specifically I loved, and agree with, and try to promote at every possible turn, THIS idea: “The kind of publishing world I hope for is one that will embrace all the different ways books can find their audience.”

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  20. says

    Robin, terrific article! Thank you for doing all that work to present a diverse range of authors who have made it, with and without following the traditional route or becoming social media mavens. Very encouraging!

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  21. says

    Oh, yes, Robin. You’ve hit all the nails squarely on their heads.

    Caveat: I’m a book designer and typesetter, as well as a children’s and women’s fiction author (traditional and self-published).

    In 1990, I handled the production (i.e., I worked with the author, copy editor, and indexer; I did the design and typesetting) on a book for John Wiley titled WORD OF MOUTH MARKETING by Jerry Wilson. My then 20-something son, Paul, who’d never shown a shred of interest in business, snapped it up (the author kindly sent him an autographed copy), and just today I was talking with Paul (now a prominent virtual reality programmer and indie game developer for Disney) about WOMM.

    He loved Jerry Wilson’s book. In the early 1990s, it was a game-changer for Paul. He still has that old, autographed copy on his bookshelf. Paul’s also been at the forefront of predicting what was coming down the pike with regard to entertainment, be it books, movies, video games, etc. It’s all about getting the word out there, no matter how.

    And my point is this: (1) I really should pay more attention to my son’s prognostications, and (2) remember that WOMM is still the most powerful weapon we have.

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  22. says

    Thanks for this. I’ve been saying the same thing on my blog and it’s amazing how many people think I’m supporting one “side” or the other.

    The point is: there are no sides. There are choices. Embrace the freedom!

    I especially agree that this new paradigm, where “we are all platform building, paradigm shifting, self publishing, networking machines” is the road to madness. Time for a little sanity.

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  23. virtualDavis says

    Here’s to the revolution! Let it be history-changing but bloodless. And for every new publishing platform, every new storytelling innovation, every new storyteller-audience interaction let us strive to reinvent and reinvigorate the narrative craft. Onward!

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  24. says

    And excellent post, Robin. It’s so important to realize
    (1) that in this brave new world of publishing, all options are open and
    (2) that success is rare, there are very few Amanda Hockings in the new tsunami wave of self-pubbed authors!

    This really needed to be said and you did a beautiful job of it. Bottom line, only a really good book sells you as an author.

    Thanks for sharing your views.

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  25. says

    Thank you for posting this. It’s encouraging to see that there are many paths to publication, and that you don’t necessarily have to sell your soul to social networking sites to get it!

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  26. says

    I think all the “this side HATES that side!” is pot-stirring by people who write scandalous-sounding articles as link-bait, to draw attention back to themselves.

    Most of the writers I hang out with are happy to do their own thing and let other people do theirs.

    Except for people who don’t outline. They get REALLY UPSET if you suggest, when they’re mired in a plot hole, that they might want to consider … aaagh! Stop hitting me! I’m kidding! :-)

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  27. says

    I like the different opportunities available now. I like the fact that if one way doesn’t work, I can revise my current procedure or try another path.

    I have to admit, I was once one of those who zealously defended self-publishing option against the naysayers. But any more, I feel why defend? I don’t have to defend it; it does fine on its own–especially for something so young (considering the modern way of self-publishing).

    That’s the same way I feel about the commercial publishing side. Each has its own functions, and hopefully, each will learn from the other and improve itself especially to the benefit of the writers involved in both.

    Jodi

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  28. says

    This post is like a deep inhalation, a bit of ease inside the hectic push to do so much. I especially love how you highlight the different ways writers have made it to the bestseller list. Thank you.

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